Rationalizing Ethically Questionable Intentions: An Investigation of Marketing Practices in the USA.
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KeywordsTechniques of neutralizationPerceived moral intensityEthical judgmentEthically questionable intentionsEthically questionable decision-makingMachiavellianismMarketingIllicit behaviours
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InstitutionUniversity of Bradford
DepartmentSchool of Management
In this research, a model for ethically questionable decision-making is developed by amalgamating several decision-making theories. The variables of interest are the techniques of neutralization, perceived moral intensity, Machiavellianism, unethical intentions, and ethical judgment. Using a sample of 276 U.S. marketing professionals, partial least squares structural equation modelling was used to validate the model. Findings reveal that U.S. marketing professionals rationalize their ethically questionable intentions through their: (1) perception of moral intensity (i.e., minimizing the harms on others, perceiving their self-interest as most salient, and indifference to social consensus), (2) reliance on various neutralization techniques, and; (3) judgment of their ethically questionable intentions as ethical. After controlling for the Machiavellian personality trait, Machiavellianism did not have a profound effect on the decision-making process, which implies that marketers, in general, are capable of the cognitive distortions found in this study. The main contribution to knowledge is the synthesis of the techniques of neutralization and the perceived moral intensity construct. Through this amalgamation, knowledge of the intermediary steps in the decision-making process has emerged. A contribution to knowledge involves testing the relationship between Machiavellianism and unethical intentions through the mediating variable of the techniques of neutralization. Through this investigation, it was found that the Machiavellian personality is inconsequential to the decision-making process. As a contribution to managerial knowledge, it was found that through cognitive distortions, marketers are capable of various illicit behaviours, which have been shown to be costly to not only stakeholders, but also to the profitability and reputations of organisations.